Gina Osher is The Twin Coach in Los Angeles. She bravely writes about some of the uneven feelings that twin parents may experience in hopes of helping other moms who are having the same challenge.
One of the fantasies that I had about being a mom of twins is how I would instantly love both my babies in exactly the same way. What surprised me the most when our twins were born is how very common it is for parents of multiples to feel more of a connection to one than the other. It is so rarely talked about that it causes a great deal of shame for those of us who experience it. This is not postpartum depression but rather an imbalance between how easily you connect to one twin over the other. This bond imbalance can fluctuate, shift from one child to the other and generally does not last – especially if the parent is proactive about it. This is an issue that I believe exists solely for those of us with multiples; a singleton mother may feel disconnected from her child at times, but she doesn’t have the side-by-side comparison staring her in the face which adds to the already enormous guilt.
When our children were born, our son arrived first. After 18 hours of labor he pushed his way out and was placed on my chest. He blinked at me and made a sort of mewing sound – like a kitten. I felt this huge rush of emotion and felt instantly that I wanted to love and protect him. He was a gentle, quiet, easygoing baby with plaintive cries. He needed me and he was easy to love. Our daughter was born an hour and 10 minutes after our son – right from the start she had her own ideas about how she was going to do things! She came out, red-faced and screaming. I was jarred by her loud sounds after so many hours of labor and didn’t know what to make of her. When she would cry at home she always sounded pissed off and insistent. She was more difficult to figure out. I had a hard time describing her personality when people asked. I actually felt like she liked our nanny more than me. I was having a hard time bonding. And I felt awful. Here was my little girl, so beautiful and perfect and who needed me so much. Of course I loved her. But I felt distant. It was so natural with our son. Why was it so hard with her?
At some point I began to realize that some of what I connected to in my son were personality traits of mine that I liked (being sensitive, being quiet, being cooperative). Our daughter has some of the traits I have that I struggle with (being bossy, needing to be in control, being opinionated). Also, she was just a little more difficult – she fussed more, slept less and didn’t eat as well. Things were generally tougher with her. I subconsciously compared the two of them. It was unfair to her, but he was just easier and it made it easier to want to be around him. I felt as though I wasn’t able to be the mother she wanted, as though I didn’t know how to help her. I knew I needed to spend more time with her. I needed to get to KNOW her. This insight fortunately coincided with letting our first nanny go. I had no choice but to spend all day and night with the two of them. And when my husband was available, he would sometimes take our son so I could have less on my plate and I would have alone time just with our daughter. I began to trust myself with her and to understand her cries and to know who she was. It took time and effort but suddenly I realized I was bonding with her!
Now that I am years past those days I look back and it seems so obvious that when you’re not connecting with someone you want to be close to, the best way to change things is to spend more time together. But when you’re an exhausted mom of newborn twins you aren’t always thinking clearly and sometimes you just want things to be easy – you don’t have the mental capacity for dealing with one more thing that needs your attention. Your hormones are all over the place and it is so easy to start feeling insecure and begin to doubt your capabilities. If you’re feeling this imbalanced feeling towards your babies, please know it’s normal.
In my experience, once you have determined that postpartum depression is not a factor, the greatest way to connect to your babies is to have one-on-one time with them. In the beginning this may seem strange, as the idea most of us have of twins is that they are always together. But there is nothing better you can do for your children than to let them have you all to themselves once in a while. If you care for your babies on your own, sometimes the only way to have that alone time is if one is sleeping and the other wakes early – take what you can get! It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular either. On one of our early outings I took our son to get the car washed. He loved it! As they get older, be sure to say out loud that this is special time with you and him/her. That way they are aware that even if all you’re doing is going to the supermarket, it’s special for mommy or daddy to get to be alone with me on my own without my twin!
This bonding time is helpful in so many ways – not just to bond to a twin you may have a disconnect with, but also to help your children begin to develop a sense of their identity away from their twin. You will learn things about your babies that you never could have learned if you had them together all the time. And they will learn about themselves. The earlier you start doing this the easier it will be but even if you wait until they are older, do it as soon as you can.You may hit some snags as the children get older.
If say they don’t want to leave their twin behind remember that they don’t always know what is best for them and do it anyway. They will enjoy it once they are with you. And, if it helps, you can suggest that they bring back something special for their sibling – we often stop by the dollar bins at Target to pick something out when we have our special one-on-one days.
Or the one that is going with the nanny instead of mommy may complain. This happens with us a lot. No one compares to mommy. Even if you have the greatest nanny. Even if they are going with daddy or grandma….no one is as good as mommy. Secretly, I love this. But it is very frustrating at times. The best way I’ve come up with to combat this is to make sure the other person is doing something REALLY good. For example, I will do something “boring” like run errands. Our nanny will be going somewhere really fun like the zoo or a park they love. Early on I also used to have a “Nanny Box” which had special toys that only came out when they were with their nanny. This worked for a long time.
However hard it was in the beginning, I adore my daughter and feel that I know her very well now. Our son is still an “easier” kid, still a great eater, still sweet and lovable. And she is still feisty and opinionated and a picky eater – the difference is that now I know her well enough to see that she is also extremely smart, very nurturing and incredibly kind. The difference is now I KNOW her. I never could have gotten to this place if I always had her brother next to her as a comparison.
photo credit: Holly Gillis